Audience Development and the dumbing down for new audiences

Today I happened to come across this article:

The Lesson Of Britten’s ‘War Requiem’: Don’t Underestimate Younger Audiences

Basically, this article talks about how an instructor gave her students a challenging piece of music to listen to, Britten’s “War Requiem,” but found ways that the kids could relate to it so they could find meaning while they listened.  With these extra tools, tools to relate, the kids could understand, listen openly and ask  pertinent questions. They came up with well formulated comments that related to their own lives and to current events in our world.

Are these simply amazing kids or is this teacher on to something incredible?

These kids are amazing, however, the teacher was able to connect the kids to the music by finding ways they could relate, which we all can do.  It reminds me of the time I was at the National Performing Arts Convention a few years back, and I stumbled upon an Indian dance group that was performing.  This group told us stories about the dances before performing so the audience could relate to the dance and the music.  I had never seen this form of dance close and personal before, and I was delighted!  It was new to me, but I could relate since this group went the extra mile and helped me to understand through their stories.

Mainly, when it comes to reaching out to new audiences, I see attempts to dumb down the content in easy to swallow pieces.  Familiar plays, music and dance programming is starting to breed contempt.  The same old same old is being advised to hook new audiences, but from the above examples, there really isn’t a need to dumb down at all.  New audiences can enjoy new offerings if we find ways they can relate.

Of course, finding ways they can relate takes more time and effort.  It took time and effort for the teacher to come up with scenarios the kids could relate to, and it took time and effort for the dance group to find the right stories to tell their audience.  The time and effort are worth it due to this main fact- with finding ways your audience can relate, you are finding ways they can experience the joys and passions of your art, the basic reasons why your art matters in our world and how it can matter to them personally.

Audience development is about building relationships with people, but in this sense, it is also about helping your audiences, new and old, to build relationships with your art.   Dumbing down to me means that you were too lazy to go the extra mile to find ways your audience can relate to all kinds of offerings.   There is an opportunity to do better!

Cheers to happy and loyal audiences,


Shoshana Fanizza

Audience Development Specialists


“Never treat your audience as customers, always as partners.”

~James Stewart


Filed under arts management, arts marketing, Audience Development

2 responses to “Audience Development and the dumbing down for new audiences

  1. Hallelujah! I am a huge opponent to dumbing down material and assuming people need it all spelled out in the story. I’m sick of organizations that complain they have no audience, yet don’t make any sort of the effort you described.

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